To Those Who Wrestle with the Fear of Death
On May 26, 1994, my mother called me at home and reminded me to be careful if I left the house – apparently, a teenage girl had driven in front of an 18-wheeler that morning and had been killed on impact.
“Someone said her mom is a schoolteacher named Betty Myers and works in Hattiesburg,” said Mom.
“Mom, Erin’s mother is named Betty, and she’s a schoolteacher in Hattiesburg.”
My mom paused for a moment as we both put it together.
“Oh no. Joshua, I’m so sorry.”
Erin was one of my best buddies – at least she had been until a month before the accident. We had gotten into an argument one afternoon, which I ended by hanging up the phone and refusing to call her again.
The day of Erin’s accident, I watched the news report that showed her roller skate lying in the grass, a few feet from her car. I went to the visitation and stared at Erin’s body, wondering how much damage was covered by her long-sleeved dress. I carried her casket to the grave, uncontrollably sobbing; and after that day, I plunged into a dark, fearful relationship with death.
I obsessively tried to anticipate the next untimely death that would happen – maybe it would be my grandfather, my brother, my sister, my mom, or me. I cried too hard when people died in cheesy movies. I desperately wanted to believe that people could come back from the dead like they did on soap operas. I made it my mission to stay in touch with everyone, to tell others how much they mattered to me, to never again lose someone and be saddled with the guilt of unresolved conflict.
To this day, I still occasionally wrestle with vain imaginations of my mortality and the mortality of those I love, but not nearly as much as I used to. The Spirit keeps visiting this area of my heart that’s still healing. And when He does, He comforts me and reminds me that part of my journey of faith is following Jesus into death and believing that I will one day be resurrected like Him.
Frankly, I would be happy if Jesus simply came back tomorrow morning and neither I nor my loved ones had to pass through the dark veil of death before entering into glory. So God keeps working with me, assuring me that I can trust Him with this. In fact, just yesterday morning, He and I revisited this area again.
Walking on Water
I was reading my Bible and came upon the story of that dark, windy night when the 12 disciples were in a boat trying to cross the perilous sea. They heard a voice in the distance and saw the horrific outline of a Man moving across the dark waters towards them. They thought it was a spirit at first, but they eventually figured out it was Jesus; and He was doing something completely unnatural, something impossible: He was walking on the water, breaking the laws of nature. And then He asked one of them to get out of the boat, to place his feet on the dark, black sea and walk.
My call to follow Jesus into death one day feels like that invitation to come out onto the water. He’s basically asking me to do something that goes against my very nature and trust that in that moment, I will experience the impossible – resurrection – just like He did. I feel like saying, “Lord, You may be able to do that, but not me.” Even so, the end is coming whether I like it or not; and when it does, I’m going to have to walk onto the dark waters of death and meet Jesus there. If I should lose heart in that moment – even if, like Peter, my faith comes out from under me – I need not fear. Jesus Himself will catch me, pull me towards Him, and gently say, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
Rather than offer an explanation, I’ll simply collapse in His arms, relax; and in that place of glory, I’ll say in awe, “‘Truly, You are the Son of God'” (Matthew 14:33).